There are already upwards of 70 million AK-47s in circulation worldwide. But amid domestic unrest, global criticism of Moscow, and EU and US sanctions, the state-owned Russian company responsible for the gun’s production is trying to rebrand itself.
In Moscow on Tuesday, the Siberian company behind the rifle unveiled new slogans (“Protecting Peace” was one of them) and a red-and-black logo shaped like the letter “K.”
The new logo appeared on the gun’s ammo magazine, and Sergei Chemezov, head of a state company with a controlling stake in Kalashnikov, said he hoped the brand would reach Apple’s level of worldwide recognition.
The AK-47 was designed in 1947 (hence the call number), but really took off in the late ’50s when the USSR allowed its various satellite states and other friendly countries to produce their own. As recently as 2012, Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chávez said his country had begun production of AK-103s, another assault rifle in the Kalashnikov family.
Deadly, inexpensive, and widely available to both formal militaries and nonstate groups, the AK-47 is an icon of contemporary warfare. One of Saddam Hussein’s sons had his plated in gold. It adorns the flag of Mozambique — and that of the Lebanese Shi’ite militia group Hezbollah. The AK-47 is the weapon of choice for terrorist groups like the Afghan Taliban and Somalia’s al-Shabaab. Even so, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev once called Kalashnikov “a national brand which evokes pride in each citizen.”
More recently, the company has been hit by US and EU sanctions over the Russian government’s role in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Those sanctions blocked the delivery of up to 200,000 units to the US and Canada, and mothballed an ad campaign featuring actor and gun advocate Steven Seagal.
The rebranded Kalashnikov wants to use the company’s iconic status to dull the effect of the sanctions and even move beyond the firearms market — it will expand its offerings to include accessories and a clothing line. Company CEO Alexei Krivoruchko also told Russian news agencies it aimed to double production and quadruple sales by the end of the decade. The company sold 140,000 units this year, twice as many as in 2013, reports stated.
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the gun’s creator, died last year at the age of 94. Visiting Germany in 2002, he revealed mixed feelings about his legacy.
“I’m proud of my invention, but I’m sad that it is used by terrorists,” he said. “I would prefer to have invented a machine that people could use and that would help farmers with their work — for example a lawnmower.”